Gingivitis is an early and mild form of periodontal disease. It appears as red, swollen and bleeding gums, usually when brushing and flossing. While it is understandably concerning, gingivitis is not all that uncommon.
The National Institutes of Health reports that almost half of all Americans over age 30 have experienced some form of gum disease. The likelihood of developing it dramatically increases with age. It can often be prevented, reversed or managed with the help of your dentist.
Signs and Symptoms
One of the first and most obvious signs for most people suffering from gum disease or gingivitis is bleeding gums, especially after brushing your teeth. Red, swollen gums may feel sore long after brushing. As the disease progresses, you may experience bad breath as well.
If symptoms persist without treatment, you may start to notice pain or sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks. This is because the gums begin to pull away from the tooth’s root, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. In the advanced stages of gum disease, when there is less healthy gum tissue to support the teeth, they can become loose.
Causes of Gum Disease
Gingivitis is caused by a process that starts with plaque formation on the teeth. Plaque is created when sugars in the foods you eat interact with bacteria inside your mouth. This excess bacterium sticks to your teeth as a residue and grows quickly. With a good oral hygiene routine, much of this plaque is removed. Plaque that stays for very long turns into tartar.
Tartar is a hard, rough substance that lives just below the gumline. It’s easy for bacteria to get caught in and grow along the gum line on this rough surface, aggravating gums. This leads to swelling, redness and the bleeding you see when you brush and floss.
While most plaque can be removed with routine oral hygiene, tartar requires professional cleaning. It’s important to schedule regular dental exams and cleanings as recommended by your dentist. Your dental hygienist can remove small amounts, as well as show you how to lessen the buildup of tartar over time through proper brushing and flossing techniques.
Gingivitis Risk Factors
Gum disease is more common than you think. If you use tobacco products, drink alcohol regularly, eat poorly or don’t brush and floss or see your dentist regularly, you may be able to change those habits to help prevent or treat gingivitis.
Those with underlying physical health conditions, such as those that impair the immune system or require chemotherapy, can affect how fast plaque forms on the teeth. Certain medications can affect the teeth by causing dry mouth or making you more susceptible to infections.
Other risk factors include age, gender, hormonal changes and genetics. While you may not be able to change that you are at risk of developing gum disease due to these reasons, you can still work with your dentist to prevent it, if possible, or manage it.
Your experienced dental team will work together to spot changes in your oral health that indicate gum disease over time. During regular dental checkups, they will:
- Review any changes in your medical history or medications
- Evaluate your risk factors, including smoking and poor oral hygiene
- Perform an oral exam to look for signs of inflammation or infection
- Check for any loose teeth that weren’t already noted in previous exams
- Measure the depth of the pocket between your tooth and the gumline of each tooth
- Take dental x-rays to look for bone loss and other underlying issues
Good Oral Hygiene Tips
Good oral hygiene is recommended for everyone. However, it can be a great first step in preventing and treating bleeding gums at home. Creating a routine of brushing and flossing can help avoid gingivitis and many other dental problems like cavities and bad breath. If you have any questions about oral hygiene, your experienced Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry team would be more than happy to answer them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several things adults can do to help maintain a bright, healthy smile and prevent gingivitis:
- Use a fluoride toothpaste
- Brush twice daily and floss between teeth
- Visit your dentist for a checkup every year
- Don’t use tobacco products and limit the use of alcohol
- Manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes
- Avoid medications that cause dry mouth or, if you can’t, stay hydrated
- Alert your dentist to any changes you experience
Caring for Bleeding Gums at Home
The most important and first step you should take when addressing bleeding gums is to follow a good oral hygiene routine. In addition to the recommendations by the CDC listed above, here are several other steps you may take at home to reduce the discomfort of swollen gums:
- Get a new toothbrush: If you haven’t replaced your toothbrush for a while, it may be time for a new one. Worn-out bristles are less effective, and your toothbrush can start to harbor bacteria over time.
- Use an electric toothbrush: Electric toothbrushes are often more effective at removing plaque and massaging the gums to reduce irritation.
- Try an interdental cleaner: Dental picks and interdental brushes may remove more plaque between teeth at the gum line, where flossing is difficult. These shouldn’t replace flossing but should supplement it to remove more plaque during your oral hygiene routine.
- Brush after every meal: While it’s recommended to brush twice a day, you might want to try brushing after every meal or snack, even temporarily, until the bleeding is resolved. This may help treat your symptoms.
- Rinse with salt water: Salt water is a natural antiseptic that can soothe inflamed gums. It is also known to treat a sore throat or help heal mouth lesions. Dissolve a teaspoon of salt in a cup of warm water and rinse for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Avoid tobacco and alcohol: These can worsen bleeding gums and should be avoided if possible.
Professional Gingivitis Treatment
When home remedies aren’t enough to treat the symptoms of gingivitis, more aggressive and targeted dental care may be necessary. While gingivitis is still mild, it’s essential to work with your dentist on a plan to treat your symptoms and prevent or reverse the damage.
Your treatment plan will vary, depending on the severity of the gum disease, but your dentist has various options in their arsenal. They will most likely prescribe a modified oral hygiene routine that includes a special toothpaste or rinse designed to treat inflammation. They may also remove tartar and bacteria, smooth the surface of the roots of the teeth, or suggest dental restoration.
When to See Your Dentist
If you are experiencing red, swollen or irritated gums or see blood when brushing and flossing, it’s important to let your dentist know right away. Our experienced team at Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta may guide you on how to treat it at home until your next appointment or set up a sooner one, so we can start treating the gum disease as soon as possible. Call our office today at (770) 955-0550, and one of our knowledgeable staff can discuss your symptoms.